As you build out your portfolio as a creative, you will start seeing freelance opportunities come in. Whether you choose to work full-time as a freelancer or picking up a few side gigs to supplement your main income, it’s important to remember that not all freelance jobs are created equal. While some are great opportunities, others may be a waste of your time. How do you become a smarter freelancer? You can start by learning to turn down jobs with red flags.
Before we dive into the red flags, let’s divide freelance jobs into 2 categories: remote and onsite freelance jobs. As the name suggest, remote freelance jobs can be completed anywhere in the world as long as you have a WiFi connection. Onsite freelance jobs usually requires the creative to be physically in the office of the company, either a few days a week or even full-time. Whether you take on a remote or onsite freelance job, don’t ignore these warning signs.
Freelance Jobs with Poor ROI
ROI, short for Return on Investment, is a key factor that investors, marketers and entrepreneurs look at when making business decisions. When it comes to choosing a job, freelancers should also examine this factor before agreeing to the work. If a job requires a lot of manual work that could take an extended time to complete but the client isn’t offering a lot in compensation, you should turn it down or renegotiate. How can you determine if the pay is too low for the amount of work asked? It’s simple. Divide the overall pay by the hours you estimate would require to complete the job. Compare that hourly rate with your usual or market rate. If it falls way below, it’s not worth your time.
Another scenario to consider is if the work that requires a lot of time doesn’t add much value to your portfolio. It is one thing if the client is willing to pay much more than your usual rate for the job. It is another thing when the job is paying subpar rate or close to your usual rate but doesn’t contribute too much to your portfolio. You can still decide to take on the work if money is a concern, but if you have plenty of other work, it is simply not worth stretching yourself too thin if it’s not going to make a difference for your portfolio.
Beware of “Friends of Friends” Clients
We all have that “friend of a friend” client who was referred to us by our friends, family or acquaintance. They could be great clients, but some of them might cause more headaches than the money is worth. Because of the “friend” connection, some of these clients tend to cut corners and make unreasonable demands. For example, they may ask you for a “friends and family” pricing when they can afford more. If you are comfortable giving them a discount, that’s great. But most freelancers take on jobs because they need to pay the bills. Before you give out the discount, ask yourself if you can afford to charge lower.
Some of these clients may also want you to do the work without necessary due diligence. This has more serious consequences than charging them less because you could be left without payment at all. Whether your client comes in through friend referral or the regular channels, always make sure you sign a formal contract with clear scope of work and payment terms. Your friends and family won’t be able to get you the money back if their friends decide to not pay you.
Unresponsive and Vague Clients
If you find yourself waiting for days without a response from a potential client during the pre-project phase, you have reasons to doubt their responsiveness when it comes to payment. It is okay if they miss one or two correspondence because life happens, but if that becomes a trend, you should reconsider doing work for them.
On the other hand, if the client is always vague with what they are looking for, and you have made several concerted efforts to clarify their requests, it is not the best idea to accept the job because you would have a hard time making them happy and the project could be dragged on for months.
Clients with Bad Reputations
It is always a good idea to do research on your potential clients. Nowadays, if a client has done questionable things before, chances are you will be able to find traces of that on the Internet, either through reviews or even news articles. For example, I once went to an interview with a company and spoke directly with the CEO. She was perfectly polite and personable during the interview, but later I was shocked to find news articles about her appalling management style that includes frequent verbal abuses and favoritism. Needless to say, I turned down the job.
Of course, not all bad reputations are the same. Read between the lines and see if the bad press has potential impact on your collaboration with them. For example, if the client is being investigated for violating trade regulations that have nothing to do with your job, you may have nothing to worry about.
Clients Who Ask for Free Trials
If a potential client asked you to do a free sample project before they decide to hire you, it is a sign that they could lowball you or take your work and go with someone else. Providing work samples and doing an interview should be enough for a client to make a hiring decision. Sample projects or tests is more acceptable for full-time salaried jobs because those positions have bigger hiring costs and higher return for job applicants if they get the offer. Freelance jobs, on the other hand, should have more of a straight to business nature. If you are willing to do the free trial, make sure the scope of the project is very small (takes less than 30 minutes) that it wouldn’t take too much of your time.
If you are considering an onsite freelance job, chances are you would go onsite for an interview. When you are inside the company, make note of how it seems to be running. A disorganized company with chaotic work environment is very easy to spot as soon as you step foot into the building. You would see a lot of running and yelling employees, most with unhappy faces. You could also listen to employee’s phone conversations and see if you hear a lot of frustrations.
You can also spot a disorganized company without actually visiting its office. If you receive contracts full of mistakes and correspondence that is consistent, you have reasons to doubt their operational efficiency. It is not necessarily a deal-breaker if the issues are fixed after you raise them or if the duration of the onsite job is very short. However, if you are expecting to freelance for that company on a long-term basis, their disorganization could cause you problems in the long run.
Clients with Unreasonable or Unethical Demands
During the negotiation phase, if a client makes unreasonable requests regarding project delivery time, the scope of work or unethical demands, you would be better off staying away from them. It is understandable that some clients don’t have a good understanding of what it takes to complete the job, but they should be willing to listen to your explanation and adjust their expectations. Protect yourself with a bullet-proof contract in case the client starts making unreasonable requests half way through the project.
When it comes to ethical issues, it largely depends on your values and how comfortable you are with your client not abiding by them. For example, if you find out that a client asks you to create materials that will be used to promote something you find questionable, would you be okay with it? If the answer is no, then don’t associate your name with the client and the project.